NGFA Member Alert: Republicans Unveil COVID-19 Federal Aid Proposal

Senate Republicans late on July 27 unveiled their $1 trillion plan for the fourth phase of federal COVID-19 economic relief legislation, which was presented as a package of multiple bills.

Collectively known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act, the proposal would include COVID-19 legal liability protection for employers, another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans, and direct aid to farmers and ranchers.

Enhanced unemployment benefits created in the March CARES Act expire this week for approximately 30 million unemployed Americans. The Senate Republican proposal would reduce the current $600-per-week federal supplemental unemployment insurance payment scheduled to expire on July 31.

For two months, the supplemental benefits would be set at $200 per week on top of state-level benefits, which vary. Then, states would provide benefits equal to 70 percent of previous wages, with the federal supplement capped at $500 per week.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted in a floor speech that the HEALS Act will contain at least six separate bills.

A $308 billion bill introduced Monday night outlines total discretionary appropriations, while other individual bills contain the proposals for direct checks for households, small business loans, legal liability reform legislation, and personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing and supplies.

The package ultimately approved by the Senate will be a starting point for negotiations with the Democratic-led House, which in May passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

NGFA summarized previously-known details of the Senate Republican proposal in the July 24 NGFA Newsletter. Some updated details are included below:

Economic Stimulus Payments: The Senate proposal contains another round of $1,200 stimulus payments to most Americans. The plan provides $1,200 direct payments for individuals with incomes of $75,000 or less a year, with $500 in benefits for each dependent of any age.

(The bill passed by House Democrats two months ago also includes $1,200 stimulus payments, but has $1,200 in benefits per child, up to a total of $6,000 per household.)

Direct Payments for Agriculture: The proposal makes an additional $20 billion in direct appropriations for agriculture assistance to go along with the $14 billion in CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) authority that became available earlier this month under the CARES Act.

The proposal would grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture wide latitude to make payments to “producers, growers, and processors impacted by coronavirus,” and specifically cites specialty crop, dairy, livestock and poultry producers, including livestock producers forced to euthanize their animals.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Another round of PPP loans would be allocated to businesses with fewer than 300 employees or those within the Small Business Administration “size threshold” that can demonstrate a 50 percent or greater loss in revenue since the pandemic began.

The proposal adds $60 billion to the program, which has around $130 billion left from the last stimulus bill enacted by Congress.

The proposal also would streamline the PPP loan forgiveness procedure for loans of less than $150,000, as well as create an easier procedure than currently exists for loans between $150,000 and $1 million.

Loan forgiveness eligibility also would be expanded to include certain supplier costs, operating expenses and property damage caused by rioting. In addition, the proposal calls for a “more generous PPP calculation for farmers and ranchers based upon their 2019 gross income.”

Legal Liability Protection: The proposal would include COVID-19 liability protection for employers.

To prevail in a lawsuit, the proposal would require a plaintiff to prove that the defendant employer was “grossly negligent or engaged in willful misconduct” and violated relevant state and local public health guidelines that were implemented at the time the incident occurred, given the evolving scientific understanding of the virus and related guidance developed at the time by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The proposal also would give defendants the right to have suits filed in state court to be moved to a federal district court in the area.

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